For GE Capital Real Estate’s HR leader Margaret Lazo, human capital is an investment worth engaging with. For this reason, she makes it a point to spend time in the field, touching base with staff—even if they’re located on the other side of the globe.
Overseeing 40 associates dotted across the globe is no small feat, but Margaret Lazo isn’t the type to hide out in her office. Recently named senior vice president of global HR and communications for GE Capital Real Estate, Lazo believes not only in talking the talk, but walking the walk—even when it has her globe-trotting to Japan, France, and Mexico to stay connected to her employees. She chats with Hispanic Executive on the dynamics of her role and how her agility and strong instincts have made her a top HR professional at a young age.
What led you to a career in HR?
I’m a first-generation American and native New Yorker, born in New York City, raised in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. My mother is from Spain and my father is Cuban. They raised my sister and I on values of hard work and embracing the American dream of providing their children better opportunities than they had.
As a student, I always had very good relationships with my teachers. I had an internship at CNN while in college and aspired to be a news producer, but eventually was unsure of that path. I also held a part-time sales job at Macy’s. One day I had a meeting with the HR manager, Anthony Durante, who approached me to gauge my interest in a career in retail. That meeting turned into a coaching session. He saw something in me that he felt would be a good match with a career in human resources. I took his advice and pursued Macy’s Executive Training program. I was accepted and upon completion, embarked on an HR career path with the retailer. I was placed as an HR manager at their Stamford, Connecticut store at the ripe old age of 22 and, over the next seven years, held HR management roles of increasing responsibility.
What was it like to assume that kind of responsibility at such a young age?
I was initially intimidated, and that made it challenging to project authority. What I lacked in experience, I sometimes tried to make up for in my presentation. I wore power suits and carried myself in a professional way. Fortunately, I had very strong instincts and was a quick study, but when I wasn’t sure what to do, I tapped into those that were more experienced than I whom I could ask questions. I also learned a lot on the job, such as how to have a difficult conversation with an employee or how to motivate your team to perform, and I built upon that.
Communication is key. Have a clear vision and strategy. The more open and collaborative you are in sharing that vision, the more likely you are to succeed.
Be a good listener. Find out what’s going on by getting out and about and meeting with the teams in your business, which is more productive than spending too much time tied to your office.
Set the tone and expect it from your team. Your say-to-do ratio has to be in line, so stand behind your promises.
What is a typical day in the life of Margaret Lazo like?
As the global human resources and communications leader for GE Capital Real Estate, I oversee a team of about 40 professionals globally, so I spend a lot of time engaging with my staff. Being part of the business’s senior leadership team, I also attend a number of operational meetings. I try to stay connected to our employee base by hosting round-table discussions with them to talk about business results, share ideas, and learn what they’re optimistic about and what challenges them. I also cohost events with my business CEO in the states and abroad, events involving our various affinity groups, such as the Hispanic Forum, Women’s network, and African American Forum, to name a few.
What aspects of your job take you abroad or require you to work across national boundaries?
We have employees based in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. In order to be connected to our teams dotted around the globe, I travel regularly to engage with them in-person, attend operational meetings, and check in with our leaders in those regions. As I travel, I’m constantly getting to know our teams and observe the depth of their talent, allowing me to appreciate the organizational vitality that’s in our business. I think employees are pleased to see their head of HR is spending time in the field. They know they are important and it creates a level of engagement.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Interacting with employees throughout the business is very rewarding and exciting for me. Recently, I was visiting our team in Japan. By engaging with our employees there, I gained a better understanding and appreciation of their culture—and learned a few new words, too! One of our leaders was gracious enough to give up his Saturday to be my tour guide in Tokyo. We spent the day visiting attractions, sampling local cuisine and, of course, did some shopping. What a unique opportunity to build a rapport with a colleague and have him share a slice of a Japanese citizen’s life with me.
What advice do you impart on women and Hispanics aspiring to your level of professional success?
My mantra has always been, “Get involved and get noticed.” Leverage opportunities to create visibility for your work and your results because they will speak for themselves. I often find that, as women, we tend to put our heads down and work hard, but you can’t just hope for someone to notice [you]. Delivering results is your ticket to play, but you have to be engaged with those whose attention you want to catch. Take on tough—but rewarding—assignments. When managing through a business growth spurt or restructuring, I have found that, although challenging, those experiences pay off. They’re true tests of the kind of leader you can be.